Kazakhstan’s president on Thursday approved a bill tightening registration rules for religious groups that has been described by critics as a blow to freedom of belief in the ex-Soviet nation.

Supporters of the bill signed into law by Nursultan Nazarbayev say it will help combat religious extremism, an issue that has come to the fore after a series of Islamist-linked attacks in the west of the country over the summer.

The law will require existing religious organizations in the mainly Muslim nation to dissolve and register again through a procedure that is all but guaranteed to exclude smaller groups, including minority Christian communities. It will also impose a ban on prayer in the workplace.

Passage of the bill marks a reversal of Nazarbayev’s earlier attempts to cast Kazakhstan as a land of religious tolerance.

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